Importance of external and internal collaboration

The connecting and sharing that takes place externally can also be leveraged within the workplace.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

* Jennifer Leggio is on vacation

Guest editorial by Jacob Morgan, Chess Media Group

When we talk about collaboration or knowledge sharing, we often assume that this refers to what is occurring within the enterprise. The fact is that there are two types of collaboration: internal and external.

External collaboration occurs between a brand and its consumers via social media channels or platforms such as blogs, wikis, Twitter, or online communities. These dynamic platforms enable brands to search for ways to increase revenues, reduce costs, gain more efficiency and enhance customer service, and gain input and access to new people.

The connecting and sharing that takes place externally can also be leveraged within the workplace. Internal collaboration enables employees to enhance communication, improve productivity through document and file sharing, desktop sharing, chat, social networking and many other features that mobilize employees, business partners and internal communities to leverage the platform to stimulate action inside the firewall; the goal of course being to meet specific business objectives. Web 2.0 tools are having the same magnitude of impact on workplace communication as e-mail did years ago.

External and internal collaboration should demonstrate business impact across the organization. The goal with both types of collaboration is very similar: get people to collaborate in a way that provides tangible benefits to enterprises, while facilitating achievement of business objectives.

The key to a completely social business is integrating both internal and external collaboration strategies into the business plan. Both types of collaboration enable businesses to be more competitive and do things faster and more efficiently. Collaborating externally builds relationships with consumers, increases revenue, decreases research, product development and marketing costs, and improves customer service. Collaborating internally improves the company at its core. It connects people and advocates a sharing culture, thereby increasing team productivity, leveraging specialty knowledge that exists within the company and reducing decision-cycle times (among other things).

Some of the benefits of a completely social business:

  • Anyone internally can participate, creating an collective intelligence repository that can be used for external activities.
  • Platforms such as Crowdcast can be used for market predictions. The information can be shared to an external community to balance consumer expectations.
  • Discussions around ideas, opinions, and strategies can be created and feedback gathered internally and then used externally for marketing campaigns, sales strategies and other customer facing activities.
  • External community recommendations and ideas can be shared internally and evaluated for appropriate action.
  • Communication between internal and external communities can be facilitated; employees can speak with other employees, customers can speak with other customers, and employees and customers can speak with each other. This breaks down communication barriers and helps both customers and employees take action.
  • Valuable connections or relationships can be established internally that can enable new external relationships to be developed.
  • Top quality talent is attracted to companies that adopt and embrace new business and technology practices.
  • Customers are more likely to support companies that are known to have a caring reputation, and are interested in building long-term relationships with them.

We addressed the benefits of implementing an internal and external collaboration independent of each other and working in tandem. For companies to position themselves for success, essential ingredients to being a completely social business are:

  • Strategy comes first and the tools come second, not the other way around.
  • Focus on the business value, opportunity costs and risks. It's crucial for companies to understand the business objectives of creating internal and external collaborative communities.
  • Benchmark and set up a solid measurement framework that relates back to business objectives, i.e. increase productivity, increase sales, and/or reduce costs.
  • Cultivate and nurture a collaborative culture within the company.
  • Understand that this is a long-term process that requires a solid adoption plan. Make collaboration fun and reward participation.
  • Develop governance guidelines, and training programs around internal and external collaboration efforts to maintain cooperative rules of engagement.

The advent of internal and external collaboration to build and maximize business value is inevitable.  Learning to see the value in social software platforms and comprehensive strategies will position companies ahead of the competition.  Companies that will take advantage of internal and external collaboration in 2010 and beyond will win.

Jacob is the Principal of Chess Media Group, a social business consultancy focused on strategy, creativity, and results.  Jacob is also the author of Twittfaced, a social media 101 book for business.  You can connect with Jacob on his Social Business Consulting blog or on Twitter @JacobM.

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